Barbershoppers and Adelines put Valentine words to music


The woman and her date were enjoying a romantic dinner at a Havre de Grace restaurant last Valentine's Day when four strangers came up to the table and burst into song -- and then another song.

For the barbershop quartet, it was business as usual.

For the amazed woman, it was the perfect Valentine gift.

Her boyfriend had planned the surprise, said Frank Lina, a member of the group that serenaded the couple.

"He made all kinds of points that night," Mr. Lina said with a chuckle. "You could see the sparks flying."

Today and tomorrow, Mr. Lina's foursome, the Classic Seniors, as well as their female counterparts from the Sweet Adelines, will tuning up at homes, offices and restaurants, and crooning love songs to unsuspecting recipients.

They'll be belting out such favorites as "When I Fall in Love," "Do You Really Love Me" and "Sweet, Sweet Roses of Morn."

The singers will be easy to spot, too. The men will be decked out in black tuxedos with red cummerbunds, and the women will wear outfits that include red satin vests and silver ties for Cupid's holiday.

"There are people who stand and laugh," said Lella Kregel, a member of the Upper Chesapeake Chorus of the Sweet Adelines. "Or some will say, 'I can't believe she -- or he -- did this to me.' "

The choruses also present a long-stemmed red rose and card.

The songs aren't just for lovers either. They're for mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and special people, Mr. Lina said.

"We don't know what's going to transpire," he said, recalling an emotional visit to a local hospital two years ago.

A man had asked the group to sing to his bedridden wife, who was curled up in a fetal position.

"When we finished, he leaned over and said to her, 'I still love you.'

"We all had tears in our eyes," Mr. Lina said.

Valentine's Day isn't the only occasion for song, though. The quartets also will perform for birthdays, anniversaries or any time someone wants to celebrate.

Last Monday, Mrs. Kregel, Sally Hopkins, Elaine Lapouraille and Doris Norton met at the Bel Air office of attorney Alan Getz to sing "Happy Birthday" and the theme song from "Cheers."

The good-natured Mr. Getz took the celebration of his 59th year in stride when told his secretaries had planned the surprise.

"You're all fired," he said with a laugh. He did admit: "This beats the gorilla I got one year."

He'll also have the day captured on film. The Sweet Adelines, who charge $30 for their presentation, bring a camera.

For slightly less, $25, the Classic Seniors, who are members of the Harford County Chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing, will sing two songs.

"If they look like they're really enjoying it, we'll add a third song," admitted Mr. Lina, who sings with Jack Hayes, Tom Blackburn and Gene Miller.

Both groups said the money goes back into their respective nonprofit choruses.

Of course, this musical attention isn't for everyone. Mrs. Hopkins remembers one visit to a home in which the man walked out of the room and wouldn't come back.

In the spirit of the show must go on, "we kept on singing," she said.

So far, the Sweet Adelines, who are in their second year of holiday singing, have 11 stops to make this weekend, and Mr. Lina said his group, which has been singing Valentine songs for four years, has 18 appointments.

The harmonizing won't be a chore for the quartets, who love to sing.

"Life wouldn't be much if I couldn't sing," Mrs. Hopkins said.

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